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Innocent blood on a sidewalk

Tae Jung Ho was born March 2, 1967, in Seoul. He died at 1:22 a.m. Aug. 20, 1991, in Philadelphia.

This article was originally published Aug. 21, 1991.

Tae Jung Ho was born March 2, 1967, in Seoul. He died at 1:22 a.m. Aug. 20, 1991, in Philadelphia.

You could barely make out the spot yesterday morning on the sidewalk where the young student had struggled for his life. Only if you knew what had happened could you feel the terror still in the air, hear the piercing shot, smell the gunpowder.

People walked by on their way to work, to the store, to wherever else, luckily oblivious. A woman tapped an umbrella on the very spot. A man came by, dog on a leash. It seemed perverse that this little space of concrete could be the same stage for such different dramas.

Tae Jung Ho, 24, had come from Korea in March to make a better life. His family was proud. His father, the university professor. His mother, a retired teacher. To study, and share knowledge, was an honor without equal in the Ho family.

Ho had been in Penn's English language program for international students. Through education, his uncle says, Ho "was not interested in financial success, but in making improvements in society. "


And now, just as the student had been erased from this earth like a number on a chalkboard, so, too, had the signs of his last struggle.

"The rain washed it away, and then I used a hose," said a woman who lives nearby. She bent down close to the sidewalk and studied a faint tint. "Right here you can still see where the blood was. His head was right here, his feet over this way. "

Feet to the sidewalk. Under a sign inviting smokers to kick the habit.

Tae Jung Ho had walked along here as innocently as the people who now occupied the space. According to Sgt. Larry Nodiff of Homicide, he was helping a friend move from Arch Street into a place they would share on Walnut, because each was having trouble paying the rent.

It's 1 a.m. The sky is heavy with the coming rain. They walk south on 22d. Two men appear; one has a gun. Ho is knocked to the ground. One man holds the gun to his chest while the other rifles his pockets. Ho struggles; the man pulls the trigger.

"It sounded like a grenade," says a neighbor.

The men flee in a car. A Quaker City cabbie gives chase.

A woman who lives on 22d Street - an Asian woman who moved here for the quality of life - is afraid to look out her window. She heard the struggle, a shot, a scream.


Now she peers out cautiously, taking cover behind the edge of the window, and sees this young Asian man sprawled on the sidewalk, the crime fresh, a young woman bent over him in hysterical disbelief, powder burns on Ho's chest.

Police rush him to Hahnemann University Hospital. His aunt and uncle, expecting a visit from him this weekend in Los Angeles, get calls from Penn authorities and police.

"He was very, very bright," his uncle, John Ko, is saying from L.A. "He went to Seoul University, the best. Not everyone can get in. After here, he was going back to Korea to visit family, and then back to America, probably for a Ph.D." What subject, the uncle doesn't know.

Going on information from the cabbie, whose name they withheld to protect him, police arrested 21-year-old Chester Hollman of North Philadelphia minutes after the shooting and charged him with murder. The second man was at large.

Ten days earlier and several blocks away, a 22-year-old Penn pre-med student was shot dead in a $5 robbery. Police have arrested two 20-year-olds and a 16-year-old in that case.


Police hadn't yet determined what kind of a jackpot Tae Jung Ho paid.

"Is this a bad area of town? " Ho's uncle asked on the phone.

No, he was told. It's a big city, and no part of it is safe, but basically it's a good area. Heart of the business district. Nice homes. Restaurants.

"Well, how does this happen? "

He knew there was no answer, no sane answer anyway, because it is impossible to explain a random world in which people are blown away for small change, their final gasps left on the sidewalk with the next day's footsteps.

Ko said that he hoped the people of Philadelphia would be careful, and that they would remember his nephew as someone who believed in education as a way to make things better.

"His parents don't believe he's dead right now," Ko said after calling them in South Korea. "They're thinking about the possible options.

"Maybe he was mistakenly identified because someone stole his wallet. Something like that. They don't believe he's dead, and neither do I. But I'm trying to think, if it did happen, about making arrangements to fly his casket to South Korea."